An encounter with Chopin

Nov. 2013

« The earth revolves around the sun,

And every day the light from the sun

Hits the earth at a different angle »

Paul Auster


One evening, when getting ready to record a new disc of Chopin, I felt the desire to let him speak.What an idea! All the same, half sleep walking, I went ahead...At the corner of a piano scattered with manuscripts, there was no doubt that the interview might be very short. I knew the reputation of the great man. His temperament was as intense as his work, I had been told. And I could see that he was composing... 


FC : Mademoiselle... Tysman ? I see that you can’t resist the desire to discover the key to my compositions.


HT : Your scores give an awful lot away about the key to your work, Monsieur Chopin !

FC : You’re thinking of my Black Key Etude ?

HT : Don’t dodge the question ! Your contribution as a pianist goes much further than those few movements. I was warned that you liked word-play.

FC : Alright, so what do you want, Mademoiselle ? 


HT : To talk to you about how I approach your music.


FC : Don’t my scores give enough instructions ?

HT : Yes, there are instructions... but it’s what precedes that that interests me. The intention. The idea which made you choose the note. You must realize that every pianist is always looking for the most faithful version. A perfect Urtext !

FC : Our Text ? Hold on, has France lost a battle against the English ?

HT : I see. Let’s leave it there... For your part, how do you view yourself as an interpreter ?

FC : I don’t know, Mademoiselle... I don’t really like showing up, you know.


HT : Without wanting to upset you, Monsieur Chopin, it’s true that you have never been what you might call... a natural born performer !

FC : Nature ? Good god no ! ...It’s more about intelligence. That of the pen.


HT : Yes, sharpened by the light of the Cantor. Did you follow Mendelssohn’s rediscovery of Bach closely ?

FC : Ah! Bach...

HT : At least he didn’t go looking for B double at majors in his Well-Tempered Clavier !

FC : Does my Polonaise-Fantasy pose you problems ?

HT : Not at all... What an odd suggestion...

FC : Odd ? An harmonic sequence ? The B double at major follows on from the C- at major.

HT : So you would maintain that you can hear the difference between this B double at and an A natural ?

FC : The piano is a magical instrument, Mademoiselle! Believe me, you can create a lot more than you think.

HT : I see. A bit like painting...


FC : Yes, the colors, range and subtlety of Delacroix, the essence of which I try to capture in music: the blue which stretches into the distance, the harmony which is visible for all to see...


HT : Let’s return to my idea about interpretation. FC: What about it ?

HT : The interpreter is a creator.

FC : A creator the interpreter ? Ha ha !

HT : You see, after the rediscovery of Bach and the development of public concerts, notably thanks to your friend Liszt, there began a search for authenticity in the representation of works. Then the invention of the gramophone completely turned the relationship between the score and the act of interpreting it on its head.

FC : How do you mean ?

HT : The music, even when it has been written down, is renewed a thousand times, perpetually recreated. You ought to try and see Monsieur Gould on this subject! He is the one who invented the concept of “creative interpretation”, by the way.

FC : Exactly ! He didn’t understand my music at all !

HT : He said that you had no equal when it came to creating an atmosphere...

FC : Ah...

HT :. ..but that you didn’t know how to develop sonata form !


FC : When you see what he did to my third Sonata...


HT : If I may permit myself, Monsieur Chopin, what does that have to do with you ? Once you’ve composed the last note, the work no longer belongs entirely to you. You aren’t even aware of all its possibilities. You let know the first mystery, it’s true, but there are a thousand other perspectives that you could never even imagine... More than just descendants – transcendence.

FC : A nice idea...

HT : The composer is also an interpreter in his own way. He is a product of the world that surrounds him, and of his heritage. It is only what he creates, immutable, which is different : it is written in his time, and it outlives him.

FC: But there is a beginning, damn it !


HT : Or an elsewhere ! e work comes through you in the same way as it then passes through the interpreter. At the end of the day, you both merely transmit something...

FC : Touching... Except that for me, it was torture to compose and perfect each of these notes.

HT : I can imagine ...But, if you will allow me, it’s no less torturous to reinvent each one.


FC : Is it really that bad? And you still want to record them ?

HT : Yes. If you agree of course...


FC : I’ve realized that I haven’t really any say in it.

HT : I’m aware that the recording of an interpretation is a paradox, you know. That which is found somewhere between the here and now and posterity, freedom to interpret and remaining faithful to the score, memory and modernity...

FC : Yes, I experience that myself when improvising and composing – the question of how to capture the élan of the first inspiration whilst also allowing it to exist on its own.

HT : Precisely !

FC : To build a space for all possibilities... The more perfect the architecture, the more it offers new angles and points of view. Speaking of architecture – why put these works in between my Ballades like this?HT: To create a journey ... which is different from the normal one where the four Ballades are performed one after the other in concert. A metaphysical voyage...

FC : You’re dreaming !

HT : Yes, in the same way as shamans perceive “dreams”, another world which exists inside us, through us... a long process which leads us to that state of trance – your Fourth Ballade, Monsieur Chopin! Your Fourth Ballade! – brings us back to our reality with a sharpened awareness, a new emotion ...I suddenly realized that I had returned from a long way away with this discussion in my hands.I went into the studio.